Kevin Muscat clashes with John Kosmina. Picture: AAP
Kevin Muscat clashes with John Kosmina. Picture: AAP

A-League’s greatest pantomime villain

Talk about staying power. The A-League has seen a range of players and coaches with the ability to rile 95 per cent of opposition fans, but only one has been there every kick along the way.

As player and coach Kevin Muscat has been involved in some way in every one of the 42 Big Blues so far, and with the 43rd just six days away, his mantle as the most inflammatory presence in the competition is unchallenged.

Any Big Blue is a big night, but none more so than a final, with the victors at Jubilee Stadium on Sunday heading for the grand final. Thanks to Muscat, fans won't know whether to focus on the penalty area or the technical area.

Nothing will get Muscat's creative juices flowing more than the prospect of ejecting Sydney FC from the finals prematurely, just as he did last year, and everything he does in the process will infuriate the Sky Blues fans, and possibly some of the players. Which is precisely the point.

In a league table of villainy, Muscat is the constant because his segue from pitch to bench was seamless. His playing career was famously abrasive: just last November, former England striker Peter Crouch revealed that Muscat was the only player to truly scare him, after a career of some 120 yellow cards, 12 reds and a court case.

Since succeeding Jim Magilton as Victory head coach, Muscat has learnt - and deployed - every trick in the book to win his side an advantage. Fourth officials and opposition benches are the subjects of withering words and gestures; losses are obscured by carefully timed press conference tirades that make the headlines all about him.

It's no coincidence that the spotlight falls on him alone now, since Besart Berisha left Victory for Japan. Berisha was the figure fans hated because he was so dangerous. Part of the A-League's lack of visibility now stems from the lack of characters like Berisha.

 

Roy O’Donovan kicks Lawrence Thomas in the face during last season’s A-League grand final. Picture: Toby Zerna
Roy O’Donovan kicks Lawrence Thomas in the face during last season’s A-League grand final. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

Even Roy O'Donovan, who makes this list because of his unprecedented accrual of suspensions, doesn't inspire the boo-boys with his general demeanour. Most of the time the softly spoken Irishman is quietly sniffing out goalscoring chances, but three times the red mist has descended with disastrous consequences - for him.

The other two names on the list are old school, men for whom confrontation was an occupational hazard. Danny Tiatto was an underrated midfielder but his brain explosions - usually when tackling - frustrated the hell out of coaches. One of his last contributions to the A-League was to give fans the middle finger via the big screen at Etihad Stadium for booing him.

 

Not many people would confront Matt Simon.
Not many people would confront Matt Simon.

 

John Kosmina was also likely to draw boos whoever he coached away, whether in charge of Adelaide or Sydney FC, creating one of the competition's most enduring images by grabbing Muscat around the throat (and also chasing a Telegraph photographer away from training with a stick).

When he took over Sydney in 2008, the club's fans admitted that "he's a c**** - but now he's our c***, and no doubt most would put Muscat into the same category.

A-LEAGUE'S MOST HATED MEN

1. Kevin Muscat

The A-League's pantomime villain for the ages, as able to stir up visceral hatred in opposition fans as a coach as he was as a player.

2. Besart Berisha

From Brisbane to Melbourne Victory, the softly spoken striker thrived on attempts to goad him from the terraces or the pitch - and usually had the last laugh.

3. Danny Tiatto

A player good enough to be voted player of the season at Manchester City regularly let himself down in discipline terms and collected red cards like stamps.

4. Roy O'Donovan

Mellow fellow in conversation who has become rather too pally with controversy, accruing 20 games' worth of suspensions for the Mariners and Jets.

5. John Kosmina

Now a pundit happy to dish it out, he was similarly blunt as Adelaide and Sydney FC coach - grabbing Muscat by the throat, and chasing a photographer from training with a stick.